Britain’s Natasha Baker thrilled the home crowd to win Grade II Freestyle gold on Cabral at the Paralympic Games in Greenwich Park.
Also decided on Monday was the Grade Ib Freestyle, which was won by Pepo Puch from Austria.
Greenwich hosted a hot, sunny day and the grandstand was packed arena. It was Baker’s second gold medal, after she won Saturday’s Grade II Individual Championship test. In second place in the freestyle was Britta Napel with her third silver medal (she also won team silver) and Angelika Trabert, winning her second bronze medal of the Games, alongside her team silver.
Baker, 22, said she never imagined she could win gold medals at her first Paralympic Games. “I’ve really developed as a rider over the past week and have learnt a lot. I never thought JP (Cabral) would be so settled, but he loved it.”
The pair were so successful that they not only won gold again on Monday, but did so on a Paralympic record score and personal best of 82.8 per cent. “I knew it was going to be good, but I never imagined it would be a Paralympic record,” she said, beaming from ear to ear after her victory ceremony.
Baker faced tough competition from the likes of reigning Freestyle Paralympic champion Lauren Barwick and German rivals Britta Napel and Angelika Trabert.
But she rose to the challenge superbly, delivering a high-class musical routine that was a cut above anything else.
Napel (Aquilina 3) and Trabert (Ariva-Avanti) took silver and bronze respectively, with Ireland’s Eilish Byrne fourth.
An elated Baker said: “I am completely over the moon. It was a personal best, a Paralympic record and a gold medal. That’s pretty special.
“I was so far behind my music I had to completely improvise. I think I might improvise a bit more often! I had to cut a corner, but I think it looked quite good artistically. I was going to change my music after this, but I may not now!
“The music really shows JP off to his max. It is literally foot perfect. Ken Barnsely, who died last year, put it together for me. He’s played a massive part in me getting that score,” said Baker, who admitted to being extremely superstitious.
“The Opening Ceremony was the night before I was competing and we were a bit cheeky and had a McDonalds, so every day since I have a McDonalds the day before I’ve competed and it’s worked.
“I just wanted to come and do my best, and I did. The music suits my horse so well. It is perfect for him,” Baker said.
Trabert and Napel reiterated the tremendous team spirit that had helped them get to London and work so effectively as a team. For Angelika Trabert, this was her fifth Paralympic Games experience, having competed at every edition since equestrian sport joined the programme in 1996, as has Nathalie Bizet (FRA) and Jens Lasse Dokkan (NOR).
“It’s a big equestrian family, I am still in touch with the owners of the horse I used in Sydney and they’ve been calling me a lot these past few days,” Trabert joked. “The volunteers, the crowds, the sportsmanship and the horsemanship at the top has been excellent.”
It’s been a really successful Paralympic Games for the Germans so far, and there is still potential for more on Tuesday with the Grade III Freestyle looming over defending champions Hannelore Brenner and Women of the World, so it’s not over yet.
Top eight riders in Grade II all over the 70% mark.
Defending champion Lauren Barwick, of Canada, rode Off to Paris to a score of 71.500%, for eighth place.
“Our Freestyle was emotional and fantastic,” Barwick said.
“It was all I could ask for and expect from my mare at this stage. This level of international competition is still new for her, and she is really coming along. As our training progresses, everything will come together as it should.”
Grade Ib British legend Lee Pearson relinquished the Freestyle title he has held for so long, settling into bronze medal position. Pepo Puch‘s win also goes down in the history books as Austria’s first gold medal at the equestrian events of the Paralmypic Games since 1996, alongside the first bronze medal he won on Saturday.
For Finland, it’s a first appearance on the London 2012 Para-Equestrian Dressage medals table with a silver medal winning performance from Katja Karjalainen with a score of 74.250.
Puch rode a swinging test on his mare Fine Feeling for a final score of 79.150 per cent. “She likes the people, the atmosphere, the cheering and she offers me so much,” said the former event rider who competed for Austria at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
He described his 15-year-old Hannoverian mare by Fabriano as a “prima ballerina”.
“My mare offered me so much. She likes the music; she starts to dance and to swing and she says ‘come to my party’.”
After his accident in 2008, which was a technical accident and not through any fault of his horse, he spent six months immobile in hospital, and vowed never to give up. As soon as he was out, was lifted onto his 2007 Burghley horse The Who, and began his rehabilitation.
“My wife is my trainer and I train her, so this success is for the family,” he added.
On beating Lee Pearson, “he’s a great sportsman, I hope to be the rider he is one day”.
The silver medal went to the last rider to go, Finland’s Katja Karjalainen and Rosie, who snuck ahead of Pearson by just .05%. Karjalainen, who is visually impaired, has partnered the 14-year-old mare by Monaco for the past three years.
She said: “We won bronze with this freestyle music at the Worlds, so I knew I had a chance of bronze, but I never dreamt of winning silver, not in my wildest dreams.”
The result was something of a disappointment for the British crowd, who had been hoping to see Pearson claim an 11th Paralympic gold medal.
The 38-year-old had never been beaten in three successive Paralympics before London, but his score of 74.200 per cent aboard Gentleman was not enough.
Pearson finished his London 2012 Paralympic Games experience with a James Bond themed Freestyle to earn the bronze medal – which he adds to his team gold and individual championship silver for the complete medal set.
“The three medals will look great over my fireplace,” he joked. He now has his sights set on the future, new horses, the FEI World and European Championships and ultimately Rio 2016.
“Gentleman has struggled this week physically. It is quite unusual for him to compete every other day over six days, so the guys backstage have been working hard on keeping him sane and sound.
“I don’t think he could have offered any more in the arena and, to be honest, I don’t think I could have ridden any better. Literally, bronze was the maximum I could have got. I’ve got OCD, so one of each colour will be really nice above the fireplace.”
Pearson’s placings varied greatly. Three judges had him in second, one in fifth and the British judge had Lee 11th. Lee was asked to comment about a discrepancy in the marks during the press conference: “She saw whatever she saw.”
Individual gold medalists, Australia’s Joann Formosa and Worldwide PB, were fourth in the freestyle. Formosa is trained by Manuela McLean, who said the rider missed one of the prescribed moves (a circle in walk) and was heavily penalised.
“Had she done the movement it would have been a silver medal! Julia, the team coach,who called her test, tried her damndest to call another walk circle but Jo’s ears were on the music and she didn’t hear her. And so we came fourth,” McLean said.
Canada’s Ashley Gowanlock placed sixth with a score of 68.800%, riding Maile, Barwick’s individual gold and silver medal partner at the 2008 Paralympic Games.
“Maile was very relaxed in the ring today,” said Gowanlock, who was also a member of the Canadian Team at the 2008 Paralympics. “You have to have fun in the freestyle-that is the point of the test. It was so amazing to ride in front of 10,000 people. I will remember this competition for the rest of my life.”
• On Tuesday Grades IV, III and Ia will have their Freestyle tests with medal ceremonies for each of the Grades, as well as the overall team medal ceremony.
Ind. Freestyle Test – Grade II
|2||208||NAPEL B||AQUILINA 3||77.400||+|
|5||223||HART R||LORD LUDGER||73.250||+|
|8||205||BARWICK L||OFF TO PARIS||71.500||+|
|9||221||MOLLER W||FIRST LADY VAN PRINS||69.900||+|
|12||214||BAITENMANN HAAKH E||CASABLANCA||65.900||+|
|14||212||SALVADE F||COME ON||64.750||+|
|15||216||OTHEGUY GONZALEZ M||WELTON ADONIS||63.500||+|
|17||219||GUNNER A||HUNTINGDALE INCOGNITO||62.750||+|
|18||218||VAN DE SANDE P||VALENCIA Z||61.450||+|
|19||215||FIGUEROA ROMERO F||UWANNABEMINE||60.100||+|
|–||202||HALLER T||HALLERS DESSINO||RT||+|
Ind. Freestyle Test – Grade Ib
|1||102||PUCH P||FINE FEELING||79.150||+|
|4||101||FORMOSA J||WORLDWIDE PB||73.700||+|
|5||115||WENTZ J||RICHTER SCALE||73.000||+|
|9||108||SALLES V||MENZANA D’HULM||67.900||+|
|10||103||FERNANDES ALVES M||LUTHENAY DE VERNAY||67.800||+|
|11||104||SALAZAR PESSOA D||DAUERBRENNER||66.300||+|
|15||112||DUARTE S||NEAPOLITANO MORELLA||55.350||+|